Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Alarm Dispels a Dream

The alarm dispels a dream of going to a piano recital. The pianist is going to be Emil Gilels, a great concert pianist of my youth. The venue is a modern concert hall in a wooden setting. But we are in a downstairs room, paneled in light wood, which is below the main concert hall. It's not clear to me if there will be a video screen and amplifiers for us in this lower room. I traveled hard to get here, and I don't want to miss anything. The moment of the concert approaches as the alarm goes off.

It's not common for me to remember my dreams anymore. That has changed since the surgery. Some of that is a function of not being able to sleep well since then, partially due to the bag demanding my attention all the time, even at night. I sometimes don't get to sleep for more than three hours at a stretch. I often get enough physical rest from sleep, now, but not always dreams. Or they're too fleeting to remember upon awakening. Mostly they're of this semi-random type of dream, not obviously lucid or communicative.

I like this dream because it involves music. It makes me remember the time my father and I went to see Gilels at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. He performed a first half of Impressionistic and modern pieces, Debussy, Scriabin, some others. The entire second half of the concert was devoted to Mussourgsky's original solo piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition. Gilels played it dramatically, powerfully, beautifully. The music was a revelation in itself, and his performance was one of the most memorable concerts of my young life.

I'm an artist who is used to mining his dream life for images, ideas, narratives, poems, music. I have a vivid imagination, and use both my experiences, including dreams, and my imagination in my art, etc. I've read of artists and scientists receiving solutions to puzzles in their dreams, or the last image or idea needed to make something complete and working. I think we undervalue our dreams when we dismiss them too quickly as just night-vapours. Dreams are relevant to all aspects of our lives. They're the royal road to the subconscious, as Freud put it in one of his more poetic moments. Dreams do much more than simply recycle the day's trashload of events, as some claim. In your dreams, the gods can speak to you directly; or those aspects of yourself deep in your unconscious mind, your shadow, your inner self, who normally isn't available during waking hours. The ancients used to call those inner voices the gods; nowadays, we have more psychological labels for such things. But even if it's just self talking to self, if you pay attention, you can learn a great deal. And you can find some deep wells, in dreams, into that river of creative force that is always flowing, deep underground.

I'm trying not to bothered by having a reduced dream life. I do think it makes a difference to my waking life, whether or not my dream life is active. People have sometimes asked me if my dreams are sometimes more vivid than others, if there's a continuum. But my dreams have always been vivid, been in color. Sometimes they're lucid dreams, sometimes they're so incredibly vivid and real that I am disoriented upon waking. Chuang Tzu's famous question often has relevance to me: Am I a man who dreamt last night that he was a butterfly, or am I a now butterfly dreaming he is a man? Honestly, sometimes it's hard to tell.

In the mornings, I'm often slow to get going. I spend at least some time every morning meditating, reading scared literature, thinking about creative work, doing Reiki on myself. (Lately, mostly on those parts of me still healing from the recent illness and surgery.) I don't listen to music that has words in it, as that pulls me too quickly into my left brain. I need to linger in my right brain for awhile upon waking, absorbing and writing down dreams if I can, otherwise just letting the imagination go wherever it wants. I contemplate the light on the trees. I listen to the wind. I actively, as the Zen expression says, do Nothing.

I take my time in the mornings, whenever possible. I take at least the time it takes to savor and sip a mug of tea. This morning process—it's not really a routine, and it's less than a formal ritual, but it's more than just a habit—makes for a much better day. When I'm on the road, sometimes the morning's departure preparations mean I have to put off this contemplative time till I've left; then, for awhile, setting out on the morning's drive, I do my morning contemplations.

It concerns me a little that my dream life has been affected by surgery, anaesthesia, recovery, not sleeping the way I used to. I value my dream life, for inspiration and more, and I don't want to lose it. Maybe when this process is all done, after all the surgeries to come, and I can sleep on my belly again, things will return to normal, or a new normal. A lot of my life is still in flux, in transition, not certain of outcomes. More questions than answers. I hope my dreams come back stronger, eventually. I hope for many things.

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Blogger Elisabeth said...

I agree, Art, dreams are so helpful for creativity. I hope yours come back to you soon.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks. We'll see what develops over time. Hope fully it's just temporary.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

This is an area where I’m a little jealous because I have very rarely been able to recall my dreams. These days I frequently awake from dreams and am acutely aware that I have been dreaming but everything vanishes quickly on waking bar a sense of loss or perhaps a sense of being cheated is a better expression. I can remember enough of my dreams to identify some commonalities between them. The main one is that they invariably take place in a work situation, occasionally set in workplaces that are familiar to me but the reoccurring motif is of work; the place is academic. My dreams usually have what I joke with my wife as casts of thousands but they’re rarely intimate, just me and someone else, and I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I dreamt about sex, probably because there’s no correlation in my head between sex and work although I don’t know why that should be because sex can often be hard work. Now I’m being facetious. Like most people I suppose the cast in my dreams comes from all aspects of my life. My daughter is almost always a child in them and my wife is not always my current wife in fact I have a vague recollection of a film star taking on the role of my wife in some dream. I don’t think my parents appear often though. I’ve never used anything from a dream in my writing and I tend to avoid dream sequences when I am writing although there is a brief one in Left.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Dreams have their own logic, of course, which is more magical than scientifically logical. I do have some dreams that take place in distorted versions of school, or work. I've certainly worked in enough corporate offices divided with dingy gray carrels. But those aren't that common.

There is one theory that says that everything in dreaming is recycled bits of waking life, things being worked out, or fantasies, or whatever. I know that to be absolutely not all there is to dreams, though. My most important dreams, and lucid dreams, are something quite different than that. A lot more than that.

There is truth, in my experience, though, that writing down your dreams helps you retain them. I've been writing down important dreams, not ALL dreams but ones that seem more special or different, for many years. Normally, I can still retain a dream long enough to write it all down. Of course, what I wrote here is that that's harder right now. But then, they say it can take six months before the cognitive effects of the anaesthesia fully wear off, and it's only been four months now. So who knows.

9:31 AM  

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